Behind the Scenes: Women in Film and Television

The What I See team recently attended a Women in Film and Television UK (WFTV) event, where we chatted to a selection of the exceptional women from the film, television and media industry. Each woman that we met is a shining example to all young girls.

It is clear from the statistics we heard from Women and Hollywood blogger Melissa Silverstein that females are massively underrepresented in front of the camera. But what about those behind the camera? According to the San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film, in 2012, only 26% of individuals working behind the scenes (such as directors, producers and writers) were women. The figures for the amount of women who worked on the top 250 films of 2012 are even more depressing; they stand at a mere 18%.

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Camera operator Lulu Elliott filming the Opening Ceremony at the London 2012 Olympics

What can be done to change this? Some women have taken it on themselves to bridge the gender inequality gap by taking matters into their own hands. Kristen Wigg penned the £198 million smash-hit film Bridesmaids after been quoted as saying: “It’s not that there aren’t good roles for women, there just aren’t enough.”

In May of this year, camera operator Lulu Elliott launched her own agency, Reel Angels, to help women who work behind the camera. “We hope to raise much needed awareness with Reel Angels as [it is] the first and only agency representing female camera, lighting and sound freelance crews,” she told us. “With 100 UK members and growing, it feels great to shine a light on skilled women who have been traditionally been under-represented.” The women that are represented by the agency already have a myriad of crew credits, everything from Hollywood blockbusters to British soap operas.

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Writer/Director Sarah Gray

We also met Sarah Gray, whose latest film Wicked Yeva, a psychological thriller about sibling rivalry, was featured as Film of the Day on Gerry Films. Sarah wrote and directed the film herself.

“I made Wicked Yeva because I’m fascinated with the cycles of behaviour created within families. Yeva’s revenge is fuelled by her need for her mother’s love, [which her mother] Heather is unable to give. The cycle continues as Yeva bullies her little sister Susie so she can control the family and ultimately Heather. I wanted to tell the story of siblings because it’s a relationship most of us understand and is often our first experience of rivalry. I find it frightening how we easily we pass on the unspoken darkness in our hearts to those who need us most.”

Sarah openly admits that she is using her film and talent to break common stereotypes about women that are held in the film and television industry. “I’ve found that, being a woman, my skills and vision are often automatically underestimated. It’s only when I can prove that I know what I want from my films, and have a clear vision of what I’m trying to achieve, that attitude changes. By being concise, calm, and communicative, I’ve managed to make it work so far!”

These women show that females are now finding new and creative ways to express themselves. How do you think we can further break down those barriers of ignorance and prejudice? Let us know in the comment section below.

Women and Hollywood: A Review of the WFTV Discussion

By Marése O’Sullivan

The perception of women in Hollywood is fraught with judgement and jealousy.

Even now, women in the film and television industry are being sized up not on their talent, but on their appearance.

Why are studios determining the right person for the job based on their sex? Since when are women not trusted to lead a big-budget movie? And why are the top ten grossing movies of all time all directed by men?

Last week, the Women in Film and Television UK (WFTV) organisation led a discussion on the current status of women in Hollywood. From actors, to writers, to producers, to editors, we heard the hard-hitting facts: women still do not exert the kind of power in the industry that men do. Right now, under 30% of behind-the-scenes and front-of-camera roles are filled by women.

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Most of the women in the film and television industry are known for their acting success, but not behind the scenes.

Melissa Silverstein, Women and Hollywood blogger and author of In Her Voice, took to the stage to debate these figures. She is about to celebrate the sixth anniversary of her blog and is a co-director of the Athena Film Festival. She questioned the lack of female CEOs for the six major film studios in the U.S. – Disney, Paramount Pictures, Sony, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Studios, and Warner Bros Pictures – with only one, Warner Bros, boasting a woman as a co-executive.

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Melissa Silverstein, author of In Her Voice, and guest speaker at the WFTV event.

Melissa explained how Hollywood works, indicating its focus on the opening weekend and on earning the highest gross possible, and revealed: “It’s all about the money, not all about the movie.”

Women are not seen as a market by Hollywood, she said, nor apparently does Hollywood believe that women go to see films. This illusion directly contrasts with data published by the Motion Picture Association of America, which revealed that, in 2012, women actually attended more films than men.

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She remarked that a woman’s story is just as important to be told as a man’s story, but that doesn’t seem to have clicked with the film industry yet, because female success is generally believed to be a fluke.

Producing is a far more popular career for women in the industry – but if only 19% of screenwriters of British films and 15% of UK directors are women, it’s clearly time for a change.

“In 2006, less than a dozen of the 307 films eligible for Oscars were women-driven,” Melissa told us. “Only three women have directed a film with a budget of over $100 million. Those films were animated.”

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Jennifer Yuh Nelson, director of Kung Fu Panda 2. Image from Hollywood Reporter.

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Brenda Chapman, co-director and screenwriter of Brave. Image from MailOnline.

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Brave. Image from Disney.

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Vicky Jenson, center, co-director of Shark Tale, along with Bibo Bergeron and Rob Letterman. Image from movpins.

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Shark Tale. Image from unionfilms.org.

Incredibly, only four women have been nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards in nearly ninety years (Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties, Jane Campion for The Piano, Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation, and Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker) – with just one woman, Kathryn Bigelow, winning the title. Ever.

Although Melissa is hopeful for the future of women in the industry, she believes that we need to continue to support each other to make a real difference. She encouraged us to believe in our female vision.

“Trust in your stories – they matter just as much,” she smiled.

How do you think women can have their voice heard more clearly in the film and television industry? Comment below with your thoughts!